The game against Hartford reflected the narrative of the Wildcats’ season, a strong start followed up by a disappointing finish.
On Saturday, the No. 4 seed UNH Wildcats faced off against the No. 5 seed University of Harford Hawks in the quarterfinal round of the America East conference playoffs. The two teams had faced each other a week before on Saturday, Oct. 29 where a brace from sophomore forward Chris Arling lifted the team to a 2-1 win. However this time, the score was reversed in favor of the Hawks as they beat the ‘Cats 2-1, which eliminates UNH from the playoffs.
In similar fashion to the losses against the University at Albany, Harvard University and Dartmouth College, the Wildcats lost in the final minutes of the game. With the score tied at 1-1, Hartford’s Michael Balzan maneuvered past the UNH defense and threaded a pass to Bastian Stech who scored at 87:07. That would prove to be the game winner to put the Hawks up 2-1.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way on that last play,” coach Marc Hubbard said of the final goal of the game. “We had it covered and it was just an unlucky thing given how the game went for us. I thought we were in good control for the entire game.”
As for UNH, the score line does not show the great performances of its two most consistent players this season. Arling put on a good performance for UNH as he had three shots with one shot on goal. He also was the one to put the Wildcats on the board first with a goal early on in the game. At 18:35, freshman back Ben Gleditsch attacked from the left side of Hartford’s penalty box and saw Arling making a run.
With one well timed pass from Gleditsch, Arling corralled the ball and ripped it into the back of the net to put the Wildcats up 1-0. Arling scored his 15th goal of the season. Gleditsch was credited with the assist, his second of the season.
Junior goalkeeper Andrew Pesci had an outstanding game. Pesci faced constant pressure from the Hawks the entire game with two instances of one-on-one situations that could have increased the Hartford score. Of the 11 shots Hartford posted, Pesci saved nine of them.
Even with his best efforts, the defense in front of him struggled to maintain the lead in the early going. At 22:09 Hartford’s Andri Jonasson crossed the ball into the penalty box. Quenton Swift found the ball and got one past Pesci to make the game level at 1-1.
Overall, it was a physical game with both teams playing in a win-or-go-home situation. Trash talk and tough tackles were constant, to a point that some players had to be pulled apart from each other. Five yellow cards issued in the game reflected this: four to Hartford and one to UNH.
Even with the loss, Hubbard remains optimistic as he and the Wildcats will wait until Monday, Nov. 14 for the NCAA Men’s Soccer Selection Show to know if they advanced to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid.
“I want to make it clear that our season is not over,” Hubbard said. “We still have a potential NCAA at-large bid. We’ll still continue to prepare [for] that. That is the plan going forward. We’ll wait it out and see how things shake out in the conferences and see where our [ranking] is.”
For more information, visit unhwildcats.com.